Graves, also known as the “Comp List Lady,” is just trying to help families save a bit of money at the grocery store, she said. Toward that goal, Graves composes a weekly comparison list of common grocery items and the different prices at grocery stores within a 60-mile radius of Ottawa and sends the list out via email as well as posting to her blog, Facebook, Twitter and her Yahoo! group.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for a bit, so we were looking for ways to save,” she said, explaining her reasons for comparison shopping.
When Graves first started building the list, she would just send it to her mom for her to use, but soon after, demand for the price comparisons grew, she said.
“I started looking up ads for local stores, and I asked Walmart what the radius they would match from was and I just added more stores,” she said. “I put everything in a spreadsheet to email to my mom for her to look at and she started emailing it to her coworkers, and it spread from there. Everybody started wanting the list.”
Looking at grocery stores’ ads within 60 miles of Ottawa to find the best prices takes a lot of time, Graves said.
“On Wednesdays I start at 5:30 a.m. and look up the ads,” she said. “I look up 25 different stores, and that takes me until about 10:30 a.m. and then I start emailing [the list] out and posting it. I spend a few more hours Sundays. Tuesday nights I spend about two hours getting any ads put on [the list], getting the list as close to ready as I can without all the stores being looked up. It’s a lot of hours.”
“I’d thought about [charging people] before, but I could never bring myself to charge people for [the list],” she said. “I put ads on the back pages [of the list]. Places will pay me to put an ad and advertise some local businesses, but that’s the only way I make anything off of [the list].”
Since Walmart is the only store that allows people to bring in Graves’ list and price match an item to that of a local competitor, much of her list drives people to Walmart to one-stop shop, she said. Sending people to Walmart and away from smaller, “mom and pop” shops has drawn some criticism, Graves said.
“I think in some cases people look at the list and if they don’t want to shop at Walmart, they know what stores to go to,” she said. “I think people have to save, and this is one of the ways they can do it. Hopefully in the future, I hope more stores price match.”
After putting together the list for more than a year, Graves’ hard work and smart spending has landed her some recognition. Graves recently was crowned the winner of the “All You” magazine’s America’s Smartest Shopper contest.
“You had to submit a video [for the contest] so I went home, threw one together not thinking too seriously about it, then forgot and a few weeks later they messaged me and said I was going to be one of the finalists,” she said. “[Voting] was open for a month and a half. I just kept posting the link [to vote] and ended up with about 51,000 votes. [A woman from the magazine] said I easily won it.”
Along with being featured in the September issue of the magazine, Graves won $1,000, she said. Though most of the money will go to bills, some will be spent on summer fun.
“I think I’ll just take a small trip somewhere close by and have some fun with the kids,” she said. “Maybe over Labor Day. Maybe to Omaha for a quick trip.”
Graves said if it wasn’t for her husband, she might not be able to put together the list on a weekly basis, but that’s not the main reason she does it.
“I like getting messages from people saying how much they’ve saved,” she said. “I get messages by single moms and elderly people who are trying to stick to their budget. I think that’s my favorite part — hearing people’s stories.”